Graveyard Shift (1990) — You dirty rat!

“I don’t mind telling you, this place is infested.”

ZombieDog’s rating: Nothing short of drive-in gold

ZombieDog’s review: I have argued before that the birth of the B-movie was born in the 1950s. The monster movies that came from that era were not only iconic, they were catalysts for everything that came after. It’s important to point out though, the ’50s was changing economically and technologically, and it reverberated throughout the culture.

One of the developments was the drive-in movie theater. In reality the drive-in had been around since the late 30s; however, it really took off in the 50s. The drive-in represented freedom and economic prosperity mixed with entertainment, appealing largely to the younger generation. What better to feed this new group of filmgoers than pure “B” schlock?

The drive-in’s peak popularity was from about late ’50s to early ’60s. While I believe that the 1970s and 1980s were more instrumental in the development and distribution of B-movies, with cable TV, late-night theaters, and above all distributable media (VHS tapes), it doesn’t mean that drive-ins had become obsolete. Quite the contrary! I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s and had many experiences with our local drive-in. When I was young my family would pile into the car we would drive up and watch movies. When I was a teenager, we did the same. Each was equally fun in different ways. It’s important to remember that the drive-in was really only meant for a certain kind of movie. You were not going to the drive-in to see an Oscar-nominated movie, you’re going to the drive-in for thrills, chills, and kills. In short, the drive-in served up the best B/cult films.

This is why I gathered you here today, boys and girls, as I want to talk about a near-perfect drive-in movie. I want to talk to you about Stephen King’s Graveyard Shift. Rated a glorious 4.9 on IMDb, Graveyard Shift stars David Andrews (John Hall), Stephen Macht (Warwick), along with the always entertaining and insanely intense Brad Dourif (The Exterminator).

Graveyard Shift is about a textile mill using what I can only assume are medieval torture devices to mill cotton. These contraptions are so rusty, I’m almost certain you could get tetanus from just by looking at them. The mill is filled with rats — for what reason I don’t know. I didn’t think rats were attracted to cotton, but there you go. A host of other stereotypes fill out our cast include “the new guy in town,” the “you ain’t from around here gang,” and “the hard-ass country boss” who has an accent that I just cannot place.

The boss gets a visit from OSHA/Fire Department/some inspector who has authority over the place, who tells them that they have to clean up the basement or else. I kind of think the basement is the least of the issues. The building looks like it’s about to collapse at any moment if it doesn’t burst into flames first. There we have it folks, the beginning of our plot: A bunch of workers bribed with extra cash to clean up what is obviously a deathtrap.

Almost immediately people start dying in gruesome ways killed by “The Monster.” Spoilers ahead, but trust me, it won’t make a bit of difference. The monster is some kind of giant bat-rat which apparently likes to eat people and then go back into its hole. The workers are so sweaty and demoralized that they just chuck the dead bodies aside, pick up the bloodied cotton, and continue on making what appears to be string.

At all times they are watched by several hundred — if not thousands — of rats. The rats are not clean rats either (not that I think rats are perceived as a clean animal); rather they are slimy and greasy. They are truly dirty rats waiting with restrained glee for the upcoming carnage.

This is where Brad Dourif as “The Exterminator” makes his appearance. Dourif, easily the best actor in this movie, gives a passionate performance which has absolutely nothing to do with the plot. What makes matters worse is he’s actually likable in the movie. There’s a moment where he has an interaction with the main character and it’s quite cordial and nice. This is played in contrast to his death, which is pointless, as it’s just used to set the tone that this is a dangerous place.

What they should really do is just nuke it from orbit just to be sure all the rats are dead! It’s the only way to be sure.

The cleanup crew is on a timer because it’s 4th July weekend and they must get the basement cleaned by the following Monday morning. Plus, that sweet cash will buy a lot of booze to help them forget that they work in such a crappy place. During the cleanup process they discover that there is a trap door hidden under a pile of garbage. When they open it, vast tunnels are revealed. It would appear the tunnels are old unused parts of the factory because we see old machinery down there. In true Scooby Doo fashion, they absolutely decide to go exploring in the basement of doom. And it’s a good thing too, because how else would we get to see a group of people get horribly maimed and killed?

Usually you can say a particular movie was trying to achieve this or that, or perhaps a director was exploring some idea which they were incapable of doing. I can’t say that with this film. I have no idea what they were trying to accomplish, and I’m not certain they did either. That’s what makes it glorious. This movie is just pure giant rat-bat mayhem. Backyard projector movie nights are becoming a thing and I can’t think of a better movie to gather a bunch of friends around to simply enjoy a true drive-in film.

Brad Dourif quick picks:

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